Is Trump the Bizarro Bruce Springsteen?
There’s a description in a Sept. 6 Wall Street Journal story that diehard Springsteen fans might find eerily familiar. “All of them describe, in different ways, a euphoric flow of emotions,” the story reads, “a sort of adrenaline-fueled psychic cleansing that follows 90 minutes of chanting and cheering…”
Except for the “90 minutes” part -- we’ll take three to four hours, thank you -- it sounds just like a Springsteen concert, right? Except this article was titled “‘It’s Kind of Like an Addiction’: On the Road With Trump’s Rally Diehards.” Yes, THAT Trump.
And lest you think I’m stretching a bit with the analogy, it isn’t long into the story before one of the aforementioned diehards makes the subtext, well, text:
Michael Telesca, a middle-school teacher at the front of the line in Greenville, compared the experience to following Bruce Springsteen. “You come to the show, and you know exactly what you’re going to get -- all of the hits and maybe a few surprises, too,” said Mr. Telesca …
Now, not to get all political on you, but I find this horrifying on all sorts of levels. As a left-leaning independent (OK, lately it’s been more like listing than leaning, like a dinghy in a hurricane), I don’t like most of Trump’s policies, and as a human being with empathy I find his personality repulsive. But his rallies are especially disturbing -- call me old-fashioned, but giant gatherings of cultish, bullying xenophobes just rub me the wrong way.
Which is why I’ll admit the thought that there are regulars at these events getting the same charge that I get at a Springsteen show sent me reeling. Could that mean there are similarities between Bruce and The Donald that I hadn’t allowed myself to consider? That they’re using essentially the same tactics to rally their supporters, even if their messages are decidedly different?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say: No.
Yes, there are vestiges of the old-time carnival barker in both of their shticks, but I think that’s where the similarity ends. If anything, Trump is the Bizarro version of Springsteen, touting division and mockery where Springsteen offers hope and inclusion. In Springsteen’s world, nobody wins unless everybody wins; in the upside-down of Trumpland, it’s us vs. them -- so we better get “them” outta here while the getting’s good. (Just ask the poor guy Trump mocked as a fat slob before finding out later it was a supporter, not a protester. It’s OK, the guy didn’t mind.)
So why are these diametrically opposite approaches achieving the same kind of “adrenaline-fueled psychic cleansing”? I think in the end it has less to do with the performer in question than it does with our innate desire to be part of something. And to be reassured by the cheering thousands beside us that we’re not crazy for feeling the way we do.
Unfortunately, while getting that kind of reassurance at a Springsteen show can ostensibly send you back out into the street a better person than when you came in -- one more likely to help pull people up rather than tear them down -- the same reinforcement at a Trump rally seems likely to exacerbate your innermost fears, primarily of changes you see as a threat to your own way of life. (In some cases justifiably so -- just ask the folks in depressed coal communities who’ve watched their livelihoods fade away like the downtrodden residents of an old Springsteen song.)
If only we could get more of the Trump folks to a Springsteen concert, maybe that would help channel their hopes and dreams in a more positive direction. (Of course, the fact that Telesca, the middle school teacher quoted in the WSJ, has apparently been to both and managed to enjoy them equally is mind boggling.) Maybe -- through the same sheer force of will that gets his middle-aged fans up on their aching feet and pumping their fists in euphoria well into the night -- Springsteen could get Trump’s supporters to rise up together with fellow Americans of all stripes instead of tear them apart.
Although watching the rally-goers in Greenville chant “Send her back!” about Rep. Ilhan Omar makes me fear that may be beyond even Bruce’s talents -- and that even if Trump’s rallies are a thing of the past come next November, it’s gonna be a long walk home.